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February 20, 2007

As I said after the game had ended. I blame myself for Seton Hall making the end a lot closer than it should have. I should never have jinxed the team by predicting the end that soon. I should know better then to have written that, even though, that is exactly how Seton Hall has faded in a ton of other games this season. Naturally in this one, they actually hit their shots.

Seton Hall Coach Bobby Gonzalez — who I have heard from many may well be one of the most annoying, animated and abrasive coaches in the Big East, and with a conference that includes Boeheim, Calhoun and Pitino that is saying something — believed that Seton Hall had the game at the end when Nutter took that 3.

“I actually thought it was good,” said Gonzalez. “I thought it was destiny that we were going to win the game.”

Um, it only would have forced OT. See, and I could have agreed with the first part of what he said.

The Pirates’ pressure made things difficult for Pittsburgh the rest of the way.

“I thought they were sort of playing not to lose,” Gonzalez said of Pittsburgh. “They got very tight. … I thought we outplayed Pittsburgh. I thought we deserved to win.”

It’s the last two things about outplaying and deserving to win. The Hall shot under 41%, and even with all the pressure and trapping at the end didn’t get the turnovers like they usually do and need. Only 14 while turning it over 11 times themselves. They were outrebounded even as Pitt was playing without their leading rebounder. The Hall had a shot, and did outplay Pitt for that final few minutes. Deserved? No. Outplayed for the game. Hardly. Hung around? Competitive? You bet.

But then Gonzalez is feeling a bit defensive and is a bit of an asshole.

“We haven’t talked about the Big East tournament in two weeks,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to play every game like it’s the national championship until the season is over. That’s how you build a winning program, not a team that wins 18 games and goes to the NCAA tournament.”

That was a thinly veiled reference to last season’s Seton Hall team, which won 18 games and reached the NCAAs for the second time in three seasons under the soon-to-be-fired Orr. That team was picked 15th in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, just as this season’s Seton Hall team was.

Gonzalez added, “I’m talking about a team that wins a championship.”

That was “thinly veiled?” I would say that was a direct reference. Really for no reason other then defending this season by attacking the guy before him. Well done and classy.

At least now, I have a better understanding of why a guy with his success at Manhattan had to wait this long before anyone would hire him. He was supposed to be an up-and-comer 4 years ago or so. There was even talk of Pitt hiring him after Howland. Phew.

Of course, Pitt got off to a sluggish start, down 14-4 in the first 5 minutes. Apparently Coach Dixon chatted with his players during the timeout.

Pitt looked lost in the beginning, and Seton Hall jumped all over it, racing out to a 14-4 lead in the first six minutes as Nutter connected on two 3-pointers and the Pirates’ spirited man-to-man defense forced the Panthers into bad shots.

After a timeout tongue-lashing by head coach Jamie Dixon, the Panthers stopped settling for jumpers and started going to the basket. The result was a 12-2 run that included two put-backs.

Jumping back to the end of the game, Levon Kendall said something we can agree and disagree over.

“I think we got a little complacent at the end,” Kendall said. “We were a little too comfortable. They started making shots and we started missing a few. They were able to come back, but we did a decent job of handling their press and knocking down free throws at the end.”

That wasn’t a decent job handling the press. I have no idea where that came from.

What definitely didn’t help in letting Seton Hall comeback — aside from the obvious turnovers — Pitt committed 5 fouls with under 5 minutes left. Astoundingly, 5 different players committed the fouls — Young, Cook, Ramon, Graves and Biggs. Stopping the clock and to shoot free throws compounds the problem of finishing the game. I credit Seton Hall for the aggressiveness to the basket, but that was 6 points Pitt gave without even running clock. Not smart play.

As for the upcoming Saturday game at Georgetown, Coach Dixon won’t commit Aaron Gray to anything.

“We’ll have to see,” Dixon said. “There was no shot at him going today. He wanted to try, but I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”

Gray’s ankle was sprained in the waning moments of Saturday’s victory against Washington. He received treatment Sunday and yesterday, but had to miss a game for the first time in his two years as a starter.

Gray was happy the team won.

“We have great players and a great coaching staff and I wasn’t worried,” Gray said after the game. “Levance stepped up. We hit free throws pretty well tonight and we out-rebounded them. We did a great job.

“Levi really stepped up. Sam Young gave us a big spark in the second half. Tyrell (Biggs) played well. They did a great job of stepping up when I was out. This won’t do anything but help this team out.”

Biggs was a surprise to me. He played 21 minutes getting 6 points, 4 rebounds and even a couple assists and a steal. If he just hadn’t taken that 3-point shot, I’d be wanting to see more from him. He stepped up in a game that was actually a bit of homecoming for him. He played HS ball in NJ for Don Bosco Prep.

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